Canseco back in 40-40 running Blue Jays slugger, now healthy, a power at bat and on bases

June 20, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Aside from taking a big swing against a pitcher laying the ball over the heart of the plate, little makes Jose Canseco perk up as quickly as a discussion of his ability on the base paths.

The Toronto Blue Jays veteran of 14 major-league seasons is rekindling memories of 1988 by being the first this season to reach 20 steals and 20 home runs, swiping No. 20 on Thursday night against the Orioles.

"People were amazed when I did it [40 homers, 40 stolen bases in 1988]," said Canseco as a wry smile started to cross his face before last night's game at Camden Yards. "They just didn't think a big 6-4, 240-pound guy like me could steal 40 bases. It was a lot of fun and will always be a great memory for me right next to winning the World Series [with Oakland in 1989]."

If Canseco overcame long odds to make baseball history in 1988 as the first player ever to hit 40 or more home runs (42) and steal 40 or more bases (40), repeating the feat this year at age 33 after several injury-riddled seasons would be off the board.

"Toronto has given me another chance," said Canseco, who played in just seven games in the last two months of last season with Oakland. "And I hope to finish my career here. I believe I could reach 30-30 two or three more times in my career and

maybe 40-40 once. If I'm at 25-25 by the All-Star break, I could do it this year. I think I might even have one more 40-homer and 130-RBI season."

1988's 40-40 not only put Canseco in the spotlight along with his ability to hit prodigious home runs, but it elicited a rather stinging comment from former great Mickey Mantle, who also could hit the ball out of sight and run like the wind.

"I didn't know hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases was so important or I would have done it," said Mantle, whose New York Yankees bashed teams into submission without swiping bases.

The Mantle comment obviously didn't sit well with Canseco at the time and when reminded of it last night, Canseco screwed up his face in a frown and shrugged his shoulders in derision as if to say "I did it and that's all that matters."

Canseco's 40-40 performance has faded into the background in recent seasons as the slugger has battled continuing back problems and long stints on the disabled list.

Over the past three seasons, Canseco stole a total of only 15 bases.

Saddled by injuries, he wound up last year with a .235 batting average, 23 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The demand for his services was obviously not overwhelming.

But first-year Toronto manager Tim Johnson decided to take a chance on Canseco this season and he hasn't been disappointed.

Canseco's 443-foot shot over the center-field wall last night against Pete Smith gave him 21 homers and 43 RBIs to go along with a .234 batting average. He was 1-for-5 with one walk in last night's marathon, his homer ending Toronto's scoring in the sixth inning.

"You have to believe in some things," said Johnson. "And I believed in Jose after we talked. People don't know the real Jose Canseco. He's a great guy in the clubhouse and he wants to win. There's another part of him from all the stories [fast cars, fast lifestyle] that are out there."

Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick was Canseco's teammate at Oakland for three seasons and said, "I'm happy for Jose now. He's been through a lot in his private and baseball life and seems to have a lot of things straightened out."

Bordick said Canseco "is one of those guys with an immense talent who is back to playing an aggressive style now."

Canseco, who will turn 34 on July 2, insists he hasn't found the fountain of youth or anything like that.

"I'm just healthy now and feeling even better than I did at times when I was 27," he said. "Let me emphasize the 'now' in that healthy."

Canseco missed two games earlier this week with back spasms and underwent treatment last night before the game.

Bordick said: "If Jose is saying those things about 40-40 and 130 RBIs, he believes he can do it and just might."

Toronto first base coach Jack Hubbard said: "Jose works at his craft a lot harder than anybody realizes. He's one of the older guys on the club and here he is with 20 stolen bases already."

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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